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Out of Reach Rental Costs are a National Challenge

July 5, 2018

By Bethany Gen | Research Intern | National Low Income Housing Coalition

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released Out Of Reach: The High Cost of Housing on June 13, 2018. Out of Reach is an annual report on the affordability of rental housing throughout the United States. The report’s primary measure of housing costs is the Housing Wage, which is the hourly wage a full-time worker needs to earn in order to afford an apartment at HUD’s fair market rent. This year’s report finds that, on average, a full-time worker needs to earn $22.10 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment or $17.90 to afford a one-bedroom. High-cost housing markets require an even greater income. For example, San Francisco, the nation’s most expensive region, requires a full-time worker to earn $48.06 an hour just to afford a one-bedroom home without spending more than 30% of their income on rent. For a worker who needs an additional bedroom for a child, the necessary hourly wage for a two-bedroom home is $60.02.

High rents and low wages lead to significant hardships and difficult choices for millions of families throughout the country. A full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage must work approximately 99 hours per week, or two and a half full-time jobs, just to be able to afford a one-bedroom home. And, even after working these long hours, a worker may still have to decide between paying rent, buying groceries, paying for healthcare or other basic necessities. In only 22 out of the 3,000+ counties across the country is a full-time minimum wage worker able to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment working a standard 40-hour work week. This takes into account the variation in state minimum wages, many of which significantly exceed the federal one.

Affordability challenges are not just a minimum wage problem. Seven of the ten occupations projected to grow the most over the next ten years provide median hourly wages below both the one-bedroom and two-bedroom housing wages. Personal care aides (expected to grow the most by 770,000 workers) and food preparation workers (expected to grow by 580,000 workers) earn a median hourly wage of $11.32 and $9.89 respectively. In fact, 40% of wage-earners nationwide earn less than $15.83 per hour, which is $2.07 less than the national one-bedroom housing wage and $6.27 less than the national two-bedroom housing wage.

We must increase the public resources we commit to housing programs, so low-income families can find an affordable and stable home. And we should target those resources to families who face the greatest need. According to NLIHC’s The Gap, we have a national shortfall of over 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income households. For these households, whose income is less than the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income, no state or major metropolitan area has an adequate supply of rental homes. As a result, 71% of extremely low-income renter households spend more than half of their income on rent, and many spend much more. They account for nearly three-quarters of all severely cost-burdened renters across the country. The vast majority of these struggling renters are either seniors or people with disabilities or are in the labor workforce working at least 20 hours per week. Clearly, most extremely low-income households don’t need a handout, but instead, a hand up.

Now, more than ever, strong advocacy is necessary to ensure that federal policy and budget appropriations reflect our housing needs, and housing providers must participate in these efforts. We must fight hard not just to protect, but to significantly increase funding for programs that serve these vulnerable households, such as Housing Choice Vouchers, the national Housing Trust Fund, public housing, and project-based rental assistance.


Learn more about the National Low Income Housing Coalition at

Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, which includes the Housing Wage for every state, metropolitan area, and county, is available at

The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Rental Homes is available at